Who owns our values as ESOL teachers?


Values are a funny thing. Two people could have the same set of information and make completely different decisions based on it. Both of these decisions would be right for them because their values are different. Presented with a cake and knowing it would make me chubby in the long term and happy in the short term, I would eat the cake: good call! Someone else might choose to avoid the cake: also a good call!

Another example. You want to take a Korean class. You find information about two different courses. One of them has a big focus on speaking, the other has a focus on writing. Neither of the courses are a better course. It all depends on what you value.

It’s all fine and dandy making a decision based on your values when you’re the only stakeholder, but as teachers we have many stakeholders who all potentially value different things.

You: If you’re a teacher for any length of time it’s probably (hopefully?) because you quite like it. If you like it you probably have some things you value. You might love task based learning, extensive reading, teaching unplugged or whatever. It might be something more simple like wanting to really get to know your students and have conversations or seeing them all get really good test scores.

Your school: Your boss and coworkers might value the same things as you, they might not. The stereotype is of the school owner who only cares about money. I’m not sure if that’s particularly fair. They probably are committed to keeping students at the school though. They might also have their own beliefs about what a successful class is. Coworkers or coteachers might also have beliefs about what they want your classes to look like.

Parents: If you don’t teach young learners parents might be less of a consideration. If you do teach young learners you’ll probably have had a parent tell you you’re teaching wrong. Its frustrating sometimes but these parents just want their children to be successful.

Students: Students are all different. Some of them might be there because they’ve chosen to be but it’s rare for all of them to be that way. Some students value learning English as fast as possible. Some want to learn but also want to really enjoy it and don’t mind taking a bit longer as long as the journey is fun. Some just want to have fun.

Society: Teachers have an effect on what their students are like. We probably have some societal duty to help students be nice people. We probably have a duty towards fairness too. I’ve heard a few stories of kneading results to make the school look better. This would be teachers choosing their school’s values (or maybe their own I guess) over society’s.

What you have then is a bit of a mess of values. I want to leave it open for discussion for a bit before writing a part 2 giving my thoughts on this. Steve Brown wrote a really interesting post on if teachers are too nice. The Secret DOS also wrote a post on similar themes that is (like almost everything on The Secret DOS) worth reading. I want to know how you deal with these kind of conflicts in values and what kinds of conflicts arise in your schools.